Nine Startup Tips From Walt Disney

Note: This is an installment in the Iconic Advice series. Other installments include: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.

Walt Disney 1. Pressure Helps You Break Through Your Breakdowns

"Mickey Mouse popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner."

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In Pressure, I note how singer/songwriter Jim Croce wrote several top ten songs immediately after learning that his wife was pregnant. A struggling musician and itinerate truck driver, he was concerned he would be unable to adequately provide for his wife and unborn child.

Walt felt similar pressure when he was fired by Universal Studios and barred from creating additional content using his first hit character, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit. However, Walt did not fold. Instead, he created Mickey Mouse, who went on to kick some serious rabbit a$$.

As Seth Epstein makes clear in this talk, entrepreneurs constantly experience breakdowns, followed by breakthroughs. Properly channeled, stress can help generate the energy and creativity required to move you from one breakthrough to another.

2. The Four C's You Need To Follow Your Dreams

"I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral." [Tweet this quote]

In a prior entry, I identify the Three C's of Entrepreneurship as: Confidence, Courage and Conviction. I think Walt's Four C's of Dreaming are more apt, "Somehow I can't believe there are any heights that can't be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C's. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy and the greatest of these is Confidence. When you believe a thing, believe it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably." [Tweet this quote]

3. Money Does Not Lead To Happiness, But Happiness Can Lead To Money

"Disneyland is a work of love. We didn't go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money." [Tweet this quote]

A common theme among successful entrepreneurs is that making money is not a primary motivator. Money allowed Walt to do more of what he loved to do, which was create entertaining content. As he once said,"I don't make pictures just to make money. I make money to make more pictures." [Tweet this quote]

Discover what you love to do, do it really well and you will have a high likelihood of making plenty of money. The downside of this approach is minimal. Even if you fail to achieve your financial goals, at least you will have the satisfaction of doing something you enjoy and you will never have to ask yourself, "What If?"

In Walt's words, "Do a good job. You don't have to worry about the money; it will take care of itself. Just do your best work — then try to trump it." [Tweet this quote]

4. Wear A Mouth Guard

"You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you." [Tweet this quote]

When you launch your adVenture, other than your friends and family, no one will care. Although it may seem harsh, no one should care until you give them a reason.

Friendly constituents will not sustain your startup. You must convince dispassionate, objective customers that your value proposition is worthy of their cash. Along the way, you will receive a number of elbows to the face, jabs to the jaw and kicks in the teeth.

Such rejection and setbacks should motivate, not demoralize, you. Every time someone told me, "Microsoft is going to put GoToMyPC out of business," I would smile and silently strengthen my resolve to prove the naysayers wrong. A kick in the teeth only hurts if you let it.

5. Color Me Curious

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do." [Tweet this quote]

Curious GeorgeGreat entrepreneurs (as well as successful venture capitalists) are intellectually curious. To such enterprising souls, the inherent ambiguity of a startup is thrilling, rather than daunting. Accomplished entrepreneurs are curious about their customers' desires, competitors' future strategic directions and their industry's technological trends. They relish learning.

My students often ask me, "What did you know about robotics and cardiac surgery before you joined Computer Motion?" I usually reply, "I knew nothing about robotics and even less about cardiac surgery." Entrepreneurs are life-long students. We are always learning, because we are curious.

6. Entertain Yourself

"We are not trying to entertain the critics. I'll take my chances with the public." [Tweet this quote]

Industry pundits generally spend their time writing about what they see in the rear view mirror. Big Dumb Companies consume such analyst reports, as they are unable to parse the past from the future. Startups cannot afford to mistake what has gone before for what lies ahead.

If you have an adequate understanding of your customers' needs and the direction and pace of technological change, you will (in the words of Mark Suster), "skate where the puck is going." If you have not yet read this entry, I highly recommend it.

7. Promise Brands

"When guests come here they're coming because of an integrity we've established over the years. They drive hundreds of miles. I feel a responsibility to the public." [Tweet this quote]

To paraphrase marketing guru and author of the Little Red Book Series, Guy Gabriele, "Your brand resides in each consumer's head. It is your promise to the consumer." Understand your brand's promise and work diligently to deliver on it with every new sale.

One of the reasons the Disney brand remains so powerful is that it fulfills a big promise. You may not provide your customers with the, "Happiest Place On Earth," but your brand's promise should still be bold and compelling.

Walt considered every facet of his operation as an opportunity to reinforce his brand, rather than dilute it. According to Walt, "Anything that has a Disney name to it is something we feel responsible for." [Tweet this quote]

8. Conventional Wisdom Is A False Constraint

"When I started on Disneyland, my wife used to say, ‘But why do you want to build an amusement park? They're so dirty.' I told her that was just the point — mine wouldn't be."

Entrepreneurs are not constrained by today's world. Rather, they envision a world the way it should be. Like many successful entrepreneurs, Walt destroyed his competition by changing the rules of the game rather than abiding by the industry incumbents' conventional rules.

9. Just Start

"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." [Tweet this quote]

The best advice in Guy Kawasaki's The Art of the Start is on page 9, "Get Going." Start. There is little likelihood that the value proposition you initially explore is what your adVenture will ultimately pursue, but you will never find the intersection of your core competencies and the market's desires if you do not get started.

What are you waiting for?

Note: This is an installment in the Iconic Advice series. Other installments include: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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